Joanna Averley, Head of Strategic Growth at Crossrail 2 and Trustee at MOLA

Interview with Joanna Averley, Head of Strategic Growth at Crossrail 2 and Trustee at MOLA

MOLA team

We caught up with Joanna Averley, Head of Strategic Growth at Crossrail 2 and Trustee at MOLA, about planning and designing large infrastructure projects and the positive impact that heritage can have.

1. In your experience, what is the main difference between large infrastructure projects and other major development schemes when it comes to early planning?

It largely depends on the nature of the project (road, railway, utilities) and its geography. Even mega projects such as railways, can have very different characteristics. For example, whereas HS2 connects cities and passes through rural areas and landscapes; Crossrail 2 is connecting across the wider London and South East and will improve the transport network across the region.  The economic drivers for each project are unique to the geography over which impacts and benefits will be felt. 

What is common is the process through which projects of this nature are conceived, planned and evaluated before they’re given the green light.  In Crossrail 2 we are using this time to fully identify and plan to realise the benefits of the scheme. Our approach is demonstrated in the emerging emphasis, internationally, on Transport Orientated Development as the framework to design and plan for new settlements and urban growth. Essentially this means planners are increasingly considering how you plan, design and deliver infrastructure that also brings wider benefits such as housing, employment and social infrastructure within the context of a sustainable transport system.

2. How important is collaboration at the design stage of large infrastructure projects?

More than ever large infrastructure projects are multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary during the design process. I feel that’s when the UK industry works at its best, bringing together great expertise (be that engineers, town planners, archaeologists, architects, economists, landscape architects etc.) to deliver change in a complex urban setting. In the UK we very rarely touch a place that hasn’t already got layer upon layer of human intervention. We are therefore planning for the next level of change and collaboration across a wide set of disciplines is vital to deliver the best results.

3. To what extent is heritage factored in when planning large infrastructure?

Naturally, it will vary scheme to scheme. Direct heritage, such as buildings, structures and sites of archaeological interest, is considered at the outset as this can affect where stations and lines go. Heritage is one of many factors and can present constraints and opportunities at different locations. It is our duty to be as sensitive as possible to heritage impacts from the outset.

We must also be cognizant of what is already there both in terms of direct heritage and the economy of a place. Cities like London have been shaped by their railway routes and stations which act as major hubs and gateways to places. When planning new large infrastructure, we are creating new movement patterns, new built heritage, new gateways to the city, town centres or neighbourhoods and new economic dynamics in places. It is important to consider these new layers in the context of what is there today and what has gone before. 

We are planning for a railway which won’t be opening for at least 15 years; which means we need to reflect on how urban environments could change over this medium term horizon.  Projects of this nature therefore need the long view, informed by an understanding of the pace of change being driven by technology.

4. You mention opportunities that can be presented by heritage? What sorts of opportunities?

When designing any major project, particularly a new railway service, you are inherently changing the movement patterns for people that can positively impact on the economic vitality of different locations. In the UK, we benefit from such a rich heritage which creates a powerful sense of place. Well-designed buildings and spaces, informed by the local heritage, can underpin economic dynamism. 

Heritage can also be a powerful tool for community engagement, helping to get better outcomes overall. It encourages people to think about how a place is owned, designed and looked after- and what the next ‘layer’ will be. Cities are ever evolving and heritage can help us find the right balance in terms of that change.

5. With Crossrail 2, are you taking forward any lessons on managing and incorporating archaeology and heritage from sites on Crossrail 1?

We are always seeking to improve and learn lessons from other projects; in particular, how to realise the wider economic and social benefits. This is something we are considering at the earliest stage and is reflected in the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations about the Crossrail 2 and its role in unlocking housing.

In terms of heritage, Crossrail 1 was amazing as it presented a unique opportunity for archaeologists to explore so many layers of history across so many locations. This has resulted in rich and interesting stories uncovered about specific places. Crossrail 1 have done a fantastic job of bringing this information to the public and helping all Londoners to engage with the stories that the scheme has unlocked.  This provides a great example of how archaeology can play its special role.

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